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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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  May 2010:
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Safari Patrol:
Tour companies to trust?
March 2010
Safaris cost a lot. A family may have to spend USD 15,000 or more for a one-week safari tour. But safari-goers do pay. To some, the safari may be a dream finally coming true. To many, it's a once in a lifetime tour. Under these circumstances, you want a good tour.

Many safari-goers have never before visited Africa south of the Sahara, so it's hard for them to evaluate and compare the tours offered by various tour companies. It can even be hard to figure out what kind of tour you want, as you don't know what's possible to arrange. As a result, you may have to rely on the knowledge of the tour companies. Under these circumstances, you want to speak to and book with a trustworthy company, of course.

Information – a means of competition
The safari-goers' need of knowledge makes information on safaris and safari destinations an important means of competition for tour companies. Good information may attract clients and make them rely on your company. But the competition isn't always honest.

Some travel companies and local tour operators copy and use text and pictures owned by other companies, i.e. violate copyrights. Others bend the truth to make themselves and their tours look more attractive. Yet others try to do the same by telling lies.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on honesty and dishonesty
A good tour company recently told me it has problems with competitors copying its text and pictures from brochures and its web site, to use it to support their own marketing. That's violating copyright, which is bad enough. But it also means that the basis for good and fair competition is compromised.

Honest and dishonest tour companies
An honest company spends resources and costs on developing and presenting good and usable information to the benefit of potential safari-goers and clients. Doing so, it also displays its expertise.

A dishonest company that copies and uses that information saves itself from spending resources and costs, may be breaking the law, and deludes its clients that it, too, posesses that expertise.

The copying itself gives reason to question the expertise. Such a company hasn't shown itself to possess it. Presenting information that someone else has written, booking air tickets and selling tour packages isn't being a safari specialist. Any travel agent can do that.

Strutting in their borrowed plumes, the dishonest companies may appear competent enough in the eyes of their clients, though. They may even, after having saved themselves expenses, offer lower prices than their honest competitors.

Rubbing off on the tours
I assume that the dishonest companies call themselves competent when speaking with their clients. If they are, the question is why they don't develop their own good safari information instead of stealing it. Don't they think that right and wrong matters? Are they incapable of making a true effort? Do they lack resources enough to run their business without dirty tricks? If so, I hope none of this rubs off on the tours bought by their clients.

I don't intend to diminish the mental capacity of safari-goers. They do, of course, speak to the travel company before booking and spending all that money, and don't rely on tour presentations on web sites only. But many safari-goers are beginners. It's not easy for them to tell good competence from faked competence, especially not when speaking to a good salesman.

Text and pictures have been copied without permission from my own safari web sites, too. Four out of the eight exhibitors that are specialised in East African safaris on the upcoming TUR 2010, the largest tourism trade fair in Sweden, have copied from my sites. When visiting web sites of travel companies, I often find text copied also from other companies.

There are hosts of international safari web sites, and keeping track of them and their contents, to combat copyright infringements, is virtually impossible. Even harder is finding out companies that copy text and translate it into other languages, for use in other markets.

Dishonesty in facts
A different kind of problem is travel companies being dishonest with facts. Below follow two examples.

A common example of not telling everything that the client actually would like to know is saying that a camp or lodge is located in, for example, "the Serengeti area". Which it is. But it's not inside Serengeti National Park, which is what the owner wants the reader to believe. The actual location is in a surrounding area outside of the park, which is less attractive.

A local company in Tanzania that owns a number of camps writes on its web site that its camp by southern Lake Manyara is the only place in East Africa where you can see huge migrating herds of tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebras. The text admits that there are such herds also in other areas, but you won't see them very well there because of much vegetation.

This isn't correct. The company knows very well that the number of migrating wildebeest and zebras in the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem is a hundred times larger, that they can be seen very well there in the open plains, and that the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem is a much better place to see huge migrating herds than the area around its Lake Manyara camp. But it writes a different story that makes better marketing, and which may trick safari-goers into staying in the camp.

Right and wrong
Neither myself nor anyone else who works with facts in text will get everything correct all the time. Sometimes sources are unclear or even incorrect. Sometimes mistakes are made. Sometimes facts change, making what used to be correct incorrect, for example when a lodge is renamed all of a sudden by new owners. But the ambition of ours has to be to write facts correctly, and to make corrections as soon as we find out that something is wrong. Anyone who's deliberately twisting facts, or leaves out relevant facts because the story is more favourable to business without them, tries to delude readers and potential clients.

It's sometimes hard to say what's right and wrong, though. There has to be room for opinions among safari companies, too. A problem is that the clients may not be able to evaluate the reasons given for those opinions.

The difference between a tent and a tent
For example, how do you describe to a client how he or she would experience the difference if camping or staying in a tented camp during a safari? In terms of money, the difference may be USD 500 or more on the tour price. But what's the difference in experiencing it?

The tour company that sells camping safaris would of course promote camping, i.e. the lower priced option. Descriptions such as "true bush experience", "close to nature" and "real safari atmosphere" may be used. Other descriptions, such as "uncomfortable", "may be cold and dirty" and "there may be a busload of 30 partying Swedes staying in the same camping site", may be omitted.

The tour company that sells stays in tented camps, i.e. the higher priced option, may use descriptions such as "true bush experience", "close to nature" and "real safari atmosphere". (Yes, that's the same as above.) And fail to mention that the camp is surrounded by an electric fence, has paved paths to the restaurant, and has a 100 tents built on concrete platforms. If your tent is in the middle of it all you'll be closer to the pool bar than to nature.

The safari of your dreams
I mentioned above that safari-goers, lacking previous experience from safaris and Africa, may have to rely on the knowledge of the tour companies. And that you of course want to speak to and book with a trustworthy company.

The problem is to find such a company, and to avoid those that parasitize on the work of their competitors or that aren't truthful to clients. Word of mouth is a good start – ask your friends. And then look for a tour company that listens to you and tries to understand what you really want to experience in Africa. That may be your company.

Any company can specialize in safaris, but that doesn't make it a safari specialist. Being a safari specialist takes a lot of competence and experience. A company that rather tries to sell this week's special offer than the safari of your dreams probably isn't much of a specialist.

 
 
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Page updated 22 March 2010